Andalusia is a beautiful province in Spain. It’s calm, picturesque, and filled with greenery, wheat fields, and acres of olive trees, like many areas in southern Europe, home of the Mediterranean people, as Italians, Spaniards and Greeks are often called.
But these regions, and especially Andalusia, located on the far south of Spain, have had their limits and morale severely tested for more than half a decade now, ever since the global financial crisis of 2009 started, hitting Southern Europe hard and where it hurt the most.
The governments followed the EU’s controversial austerity measures, and the local, farm-based economies began to crash. The people lived in constant financial insecurity, and many begun to declare bankruptcy, cracking under the weight of bank loans. Unemployment and poverty rose to unprecedented, for modern times, levels.
In All Areas But One
At first, the little town of Marinaleda was shrouded in mystery and rumour. It seemed highly unlikely that a tiny rural Municipio developed, out of nowhere, a completely balanced and self-reliant economy. But as time passed, it became more and more apparent that this was the real deal; and so, Marinaleda became a vision for those the crisis and the austerity measures everywhere.
Today, Marinaleda provides employment for almost all its inhabitants due to its farming collective. As for the earnings, each person receives a wage of about 1200 Euros per month. In a province with 55% unemployment in young people and 35% on the whole, this sounds almost unreal, if we also compare it to the barely-scraping-by wages of 300 and 400 Euros per month that some Greek families live on, for example.
So, what exactly happened in that little town?
The answer lies with its mayor, Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, also known as “The Spanish Robin Hood”. A fascinating personality as well as a good mayor, he led the people of Marinaleda, slowly and steadily, to “acts of peaceful disobedience”, essentially leading to the town’s financial independence and self-reliance. These acts included peaceful “raids” of the local supermarkets. The people simply took food staples to build a food bank with, that would help feed those who could not afford food. The cashiers were unable to do anything but stare in disbelief, and, in some cases, cry. Gordillo has been the town’s mayor since 1979, and Marinaleda’s way as a collectivist community has been paved for decades now.
The socialist utopia town essentially generates revenue through its farming cooperative.
The acres of land provide olives and oil, wheat, vegetables, and lots of other merchandises. As for its political compass, in the town’s website the political spirit and ideal is described as a “Social Democracy”, followed by these words:
“And while we were struggling for land, for an industry, for employment, we realised that there were other basic rights that had to be won. And the first necessity we identified was the lack of places to live, but we also realised that there was no place for our elders after so many years of hardship and troubles, nor was there a medical clinic, nor a day nursery, nor sports facilities, and the streets were unpaved and almost unlit.
By Social Democracy, we mean unlimited access to all forms of well-being for the whole population of our village. We have always thought that liberty without equality is nothing, and that democracy without real well-being for real people is an empty word and a way to deceive people into believing they are part of a project when, in fact, they are not needed at all.
It seemed to us that in this principle there should be no limits; that the people should have a dream of collective welfare and that it should be realized by struggle, because no popular aspirations, no matter how unreachable they may seem, can be rejected either in thought or in action by a genuinely revolutionary Left.
In this way, we were able to win each and all of the things that we were clearly lacking.”
Added to the above, it is worth mentioning the town’s clever housing system: a self-building program, according to which anyone who desires a house, is free to build it themselves, while the land and materials are provided by public grants. The hours that one spends building their house is deducted from the sum of the cost, and the person owns the house for the rest of their lives. The only price is their time and hard work, and approximately 15 Euros per month to the government (also for the rest of their lives).
Marinaleda is certainly an interesting topic to discuss; is a collectivist economy and way of life really the golden solution to financial troubles, or, will it, if applied on a global scale, crumble in on itself? Is it right to claim provisions as one’s own because “they are basic rights”, or does it simply hurt the workers and not the corporations? It’s one more topic to add to the everlasting debate of capitalism versus other economic models. But compared to other efforts in history, this seems to be a sample that actually had positive, even overwhelming, effect.
By Sofia P.